‘Social Works’: Antwaun Sargent on an inclusive art planet

For generations, Black Us citizens have constructed, maintained and improved coping tactics to triumph over…

For generations, Black Us citizens have constructed, maintained and improved coping tactics to triumph over a great number of obstacles to their safety and accomplishment. Drawing resourceful inspiration from oral traditions, religious techniques and acquired encounter, they have sought and converted spaces to occupy and define.

This multigenerational feat has long been the know-how of the New York-dependent critic and curator Antwaun Sargent. For his to start with clearly show as a director at Gagosian, Sargent has gathered a vary of artists at unique phases of their job, performing in diverse media, but who all have the same objective: making and dissecting place for the betterment of by themselves and their communities.

‘Social Works’, which opened on 24 June at Gagosian’s West 24th Road gallery, showcases site-distinct works by David Adjaye, Theaster Gates, Linda Goode Bryant, Rick Lowe, Titus Kaphar and quite a few other people. The display (and Sargent’s part at Gagosian) builds on about ten years of discussions with Black American artists. In this time he has started fires and set them out, curated exhibits and authored guides, prepared diatribes and available anecdotes. Each challenge Sargent normally takes on is broached with searing criticality, a staunchly practical interpretation of what is and what can be, all presented with an unapologetic undertone of self-advancement. With, of program, the caveat that his own progression swings a pendulum that hits quite a few other notes on its way.

Curator Antwaun Sargent at Gagosian’s 555 West 24th Road location in New York. Portrait: Ike Edeani

Outside of his published crafting – parts for The New York Moments, The New Yorker, and Interview, to title a couple of, plus two textbooks, The New Black Vanguard (accompanied by an exhibition at the Aperture Foundation) and Young, Gifted and Black: A New Era of Artists – Sargent has also assisted condition the art planet in subtler approaches. He is recognized for engaging in discussions in excess of messages and team chats with artists and curators, pals and foes alike, and in Facebook battles, in which he almost never has the initially term but frequently the final. In these channels, he has tackled Black agency, moral duty within just illustration and presentation, and the eternal problem of official inventive advantage.

Sargent is forthright, unafraid of failure, and regularly assessing and reassessing his practice and stage of view. This pattern of self-regulation and self-education and learning influences the products and solutions of his labour in several methods. In the situation of his Gagosian demonstrate, his operate ethic and standpoint are obvious in a curatorial prompt that is both equally ephemeral and strong.

‘Social Works’ balances its star-studded roster with emerging and mid-profession skills. Amongst them are customers of NXTHVN, the arts incubator founded by Titus Kaphar, Jason Rate and Jonathan Brand, whose is effective replicate varied procedures, backgrounds and concerns: Allana Clarke is now doing work as a result of the NXTHVN fellowship, whilst Alexandria Smith, Zalika Azim, Kenturah Davis and Christie Neptune are all 2019 studio alumni. Bridging the hole amongst the NXTHVN cohort and domestic names these kinds of as Theaster Gates or Carrie Mae Weems, are artists including Lauren Halsey, a properly trained architect whose family has resided in South Central Los Angeles for generations. She mines individual recollections and community heritage, reshuffling realities to visualize possible futures. Website-specific sculptures play a central function in her follow: at times monochromatic, sometimes bursting with colour, they harness uncovered, reworked or finely fabricated materials, consuming the viewer’s just about every sense. On social media, she names her vision #FUBUarchitecture, following FUBU (For Us, by Us), a Black streetwear model that shot to fame in the 1990s.


Lauren Halsey, black heritage wall of respect (II), 2021, Vinyl, acrylic, and mirror on wooden. © Lauren Halsey. Photography: Rob McKeever. Courtesy of the artist, David Kordansky Gallery, and Gagosian

In her ‘box’ sculptures, Halsey assembles brightly-hued acrylic cuboids on major of just about every other, embellishing them with grafitti-like messaging, and factors from discarded and nostalgic signage – honouring the streets of her storied neighbourhood, as very well as the lifestyle drive held in it. In other works, she works by using synthetic hair, gypsum, wood (which she carves by hand), foam, carpet and cement to make Afrofuturist potentialities that zing with the urgency of a Black woman who is aware that civic alter is the only solution. 

A further spotlight of the exhibition is a contribution from David Adjaye, an architect with deep ties to the art entire world. Best identified in the US for his Nationwide Museum of African American Heritage and Lifestyle in Washington DC, he also developed Lorna Simpson’s Brooklyn studio (see W*228) and the 2012 exhibition ‘Richard Avedon: Murals & Portraits’ at Gagosian New York. Different however his observe is, hardly ever does Adjaye embark on totally non-functional jobs. ‘I interviewed David for Interview magazine in 2015, concentrating on architecture,’ recalls Sargent. ‘For “Social Works”, Adjaye has produced his initial piece of substantial-scale sculpture, which will also be the initially piece of wonderful art that he’s demonstrated in the States.’ The monumental operate is built from compacted earth, which Sargent sees as ‘a phone to rethink the worth of specified materials’. It dovetails materially with the architect’s options for the Edo Museum of West African Artwork, in Benin Town, Nigeria, property to a single of the oldest kingdoms in the globe. Supposed to residence the Benin Bronzes upon their return to Africa, the museum project also entails an excavation of its website to uncover ancient architectural remnants. 

Carrie Mae Weems, The British Museum, 2006–Digital c-print. Edition of 5 + 2 AP. © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Gagosian

Another seasoned artist, Carrie Mae Weems, is represented by images from her ongoing collection Roaming and Museums (which started in 2006), in which she stands in, or in front of, museums, effectively-identified streets and ‘architectural wonders’, straight confronting the inclusivity (or lack thereof) of these supposedly community spaces. She wears an exquisite but nondescript black gown, highlighting her regal sort, planting her within just about every graphic like a Greek caryatid, immovable and required for the guidance and continuance of a framework.

Linda Goode Bryant, who is developing an interactive work for the display, has been a fixture in New York’s artwork and activism circles for the very last 50 several years, founding New York’s 1st Black-run gallery, Just Earlier mentioned Midtown, in 1974. Bryant’s non-linear trajectory has integrated filmmaking, farming and entrepreneurship. For ‘Social Works’ she drew inspiration from her get the job done with Undertaking Eats, the urban farming undertaking she started out in 2009, to make a living sculpture, Are we truly that distinct. Made in collaboration with architect Liz Diller, it will improve and present foods for gallery readers no cost of demand – a first for Gagosian.

Rick Lowe founded the non-financial gain Challenge Row Homes in 1993 to home and encourage the Black community of Houston’s 3rd Ward neighbourhood, supplying a case research and format for imaginative, economically-engaged, collective healing. He will display pieces from his Black Wall Street collection. ‘The collection is an extension of the social operate I do. It is an investigation into the financial plight of African Us citizens, manifested in an summary form,’ explains the artist, whose perform defies the white, mainstream custom (both equally in historical and modern day social and economic contexts) to only signify Black persons in wholly inaccurate, detrimental strategies that are uninspiring and unhelpful to the Black local community. 

Rick Lowe, Black Wall Avenue Journey #5, (2021) is an acrylic and paper collage on canvas measuring 274.3 x 487.7cm, portion of a collection encouraged by the burning down of a affluent Black neighbourhood in Oklahoma in 1921. Pictures: Thomas Dubrock. © Rick Lowe Studio, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Significantly, Lowe has engaged with the history of Greenwood, a affluent neighbourhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was acknowledged as ‘Black Wall Street’ in the early 20th century, and related bursts of financial progress in Durham, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia. ‘The Black Wall Street journey was threatening to mainstream modern society, which is why the burning of Greenwood took place,’ says Lowe, referring to the 1921 massacre and destruction of the economically effective and unbiased African American neighborhood in Greenwood, by close by white communities and the KKK, who colluded with the US government. 

‘The Black Wall Street sequence is an extension of the social function I do it is an investigation into the economic plight of African Americans’ – Rick Lowe

In the 1990s, Lowe led a team of artists who acquired, gutted and renovated a collection of 1930s shotgun homes in Houston’s 3rd Ward, with constrained monetary assets and calling on aiding hands within their community. Now, approximately 30 decades on, Undertaking Row Properties serves as an illustration of what can be designed and sustained independently inside the Black local community with no external help, subtly echoing Halsey’s ‘FUBU’ sentiment. ‘That’s a single of the very important measures toward financial emancipation, knowing the price that we as Black persons have and being equipped to access it and funds in on it,’ claims Lowe. Sargent’s decision to demonstrate is effective by this sort of recognized social excavators together with individuals of the more youthful artists Alexandria Smith and Christie Neptune exemplifies his potential to colour outside the house the traces, although maintaining a limited curatorial premise. 

Alexandria Smith, Iterations of a galaxy over and above the pedestal, 2021, mixed media on 3-dimensional wood assemblage. © Alexandria Smith. Photography: Prudence Cuming Associates. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian

Smith, who has been head of the portray programme at London’s Royal Higher education of Artwork since 2019, has generated do the job from the second she could decide up a pen (or crayon). ‘My mom states that I have been contacting myself an artist since I was three.’ She will work in oil and acrylic, slicing and introducing layers to make scenes someplace concerning reality and a aspiration. Her figures, erroneously referred to as grotesque by white critics and curators, are embodiments of the queer, Black, female practical experience the artist inhabits. Limbs and halved gestures look impartial of whole-human body varieties, a collage in by themselves, beckoning the viewer’s awareness. 

Neptune, who is presenting a piece from her ongoing collection Constructs and Context Relativity, is also an educator, albeit of elementary faculty learners. Ahead of, amongst and soon after lessons, Neptune pieces together her students’ experiences and queries to advise her function. ‘Most of the thoughts I have for my projects come from my course,’ says the artist. ‘I make the work and test to are living it by educating it, but also by building spaces for young older people to talk about it and actualise it.’ 

A even now from Christie Neptune’s Constructs and Context Relativity – Efficiency II (2021), a a few-channel Hd movie and Super 8mm transfer (4:3 ratio), checking out room and social constructs. © Christie Neptune, courtesy of the artist, Grant Wahlquist Gallery, Portland, Maine, and Gagosian

In Constructs and Context Relativity – Overall performance II (2021), Neptune explores relational theories of house, social politics and her very own interior activities. ‘When conceptualising a work, I seem at the space in which we are living – social constructs that really don’t have the semblance of physicality in them, but are continue to very serious.’ The get the job done is a psychological voyage, occupying room with the similar logic and variety as a tesseract. Area is not the artist’s only concern even though. Time also will take centre stage, with the function of the Italian futurists delivering mental fodder. 

‘Most of the ideas I have for my initiatives occur from my elementary college college students. I make the do the job and test to reside it by educating it’ – Christie Neptune

The bringing alongside one another of this sort of a different group, in conditions of age, medium and sort, is attribute of Sargent’s ambition. Neptune, who is 35, speaks of age affording her one more stage of nuance, her earlier and present selves melding to make a lot more expansive operate. The very same could be stated for the present in its entirety – Sargent has brought alongside one another artists at each phase of their career, with differing but interconnected stories, all ripe for discussion, serving as the best catalysts for introspection and its sensible follower, transform. The functions on perspective come together to develop the several-sided composition of the Black American expertise, with its countless aspects, featuring unique and meaningful vantage points. The display belongs to these artists, but it is also a real testament to Sargent’s breadth as a thinker. 

Number of present-day figures are as agile in their navigation of a both equally perilous and even now mainly stodgy artwork entire world. In an early adulthood committed to schooling and discovery, Sargent has cultivated a fearlessly non-conventional strategy, which has established wildly addictive to the artwork planet elite. His jagged ascent, like a stint training kindergarten, writing catalogues for Arthur Jafa and Mickalene Thomas, and providing a TEDx Chat on Artwork and the #blacklivesmatter Revolution, reveals the good results that can appear from the ideal cocktail of perseverance, analytical rigour, and a willingness to fumble about. And that achievements is now on check out for the reward of any keen and in a position visitor.  §